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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - May 26, 2009

From: Gainesville, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Soapberry; monoecious or dioecious?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

I have a soapberry (Sapindus saponaria L., I believe) tree growing in my yard. I planted it 3 years ago hoping for soapberries, but have not seen any yet. It has flowered each spring, but has not set fruit. It just occurred to me to worry that I am missing something important to fruit production, such as both sexes. How can I tell? The flowers are just appearing now. What should I be looking for? Thank you.

ANSWER:

The soapberry Sapindus saponaria (wingleaf soapberry) is a dioecious species which means that there are individual trees with male (staminate) flowers and trees with female (pistillate) flowers (these are the ones that produce the berries). In your case, you may have a male tree which would explain the lack of berries, but you could have a female tree and there are no male trees nearby to furnish pollen, therefore, no berries. Take a look around your neighborhood to see if there are other soapberry trees in the vicinity and evaluate your chances of getting berries on your tree. Stamens (the parts that produce pollen) are fairly easy to spot in flowers. If your tree has stamens, you ae not going to get berries.

 This website discusses the biological characteristics of the Soapberry, and this previously answered question talks about this problem and gives some good references for further research.

For some help closer to home, contact the Paynes Prairie Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

 

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